Heart Beat

Released 1980

For a long time I avoided seeing this film because I heard it sucked. Then I decided it was my responsibility as the creator of Literary Kicks to see it. You know what? It sucked.

It's not horrible, just disappointing, because this was the first major film about the legend of Jack Kerouac. and Neal Cassady and it should have been better. It's based on Carolyn Cassady's memoir of the same name (she was Neal's wife and Jack's close friend). Sissy Spacek plays Carolyn, Nick Nolte is Neal, Ray Sharkey is Allen Ginsberg and John Heard is Kerouac. Heard is actually not that bad as Kerouac. He portrays the character as depressed and tormented, perhaps overly so, but I didn't object very strongly to this. Nolte, on the other hand, is all wrong for Neal Cassady. Nolte moves slowly and thoughtfully and speaks with a menacing, sneering drawl. This isn't just how Nolte acts in this movie -- it's how he acts in all movies (and in some it works well, like in the segment Scorsese directed for "New York Stories", where Nolte played the painter infatuated with Roseanne Arquette). But this approach negates the essence of Neal Cassady, who was (from all accounts) fast-moving, fast-talking, and extremely friendly -- not at all threatening or surly -- in his social demeanor.

The portrayal of Ginsberg is a cruel hatchet job -- if the real Ginsberg was anything like this, he would not be a famous poet, and he would have no friends.

The film covers the early day's of the Jack/Neal/Carolyn circle in the 40's, continues through the rise of the Beat fad in the late 50's and ends with a shot of a lost lonely Neal driving Ken Kesey's bus in the 60's. This last shot is supposed to be a sad moment? Maybe it was for Carolyn -- but from every other account of this legendary bus trip, they were all having a friggin' blast!

Other Beat-related films

Literary Kicks
by Levi Asher